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Words, my friends, are powerful things. They both express and shape our thoughts. As such, we need to be careful, choosey, about what words we allow ourselves to speak, and thus what thoughts we allow ourselves to think, believe, and above all else, act upon. As a teacher of English-as-a-Second Language, I see every day how my students negotiate the use and meaning of the words they are learning. Sometimes though, they fail to realize the power of the underlying meanings and connotations built into their words, and how these words may shape their beliefs and actions, and thus their chances at success, however they define it.

Let me tell you about the two words that turn us into losers. These two words do more damage to confidence, purpose, motivation, and our ability to succeed in achieving our goals, any goals, than any other words. They are toxic. In my classroom, I often hear exchanges such as these:

 

“I wanted to get a job in advertising, but it’s hard.”

“Teacher, this project is difficult.”

Q: “What is the past tense of “bring”?

A: “Oh…difficult.”

“Losing weight is so hard.”

“Teacher Tanya is so difficult.”

“My friend tried to move to Canada but she said it was too hard.

But if you think about what is really be implied here, what is being expressed and communicated, you might imagine the following.

“I wanted to get a job in advertising, but it’s hard.”

(“it required much effort from me, and I wasn’t willing to give it, so I gave up and quit.”)

“Teacher, this project is difficult.”

(In other words, “I’m not prepared because I don’t have the necessary skills because I haven’t studied, practiced or tried enough”)

Q: “What is the past tense of “bring”?

A: “Oh…difficult.”

(“I don’t know the answer because I never study or review what I learn”)

“Losing weight is so hard.” 

(“I want to lose weight but don’t want to make the effort or change any of the habits or routines that have made me overweight”)

“Teacher Tanya is difficult.”

(“she asks me to work hard and actually make an effort to learn something by trying to do things that are unfamiliar to me and which require me to change my behaviour”)

“My friend tried to Canada but she said it was too hard.”

(“The government asked her to prepare documents, pay money, and wait a long time, and she didn’t want to do any of this, so she gave up trying.”)

Reading between the lines, or “smelling the air,” what you really sense is being communicated is that these people didn’t achieve their goal. Instead, they either chose not to make the effort involved, or gave up trying. Why do they say “it was so hard”? They want you to feel bad for them! And worse, they want you to also avoid making an effort or to give up trying to achieve your goals. They haven’t achieved their goals, so they want you to also not achieve our goals. Misery loves company, so the saying goes. Misery hates being alone, and worse, resents those who succeed and will often stop at nothing to prevent others from enjoying their own success. That way, you can join them while sitting around in a bar saying, “it’s so difficult.”

You know who does this? Losers.

Losers fail to achieve their goals because they don’t make the effort. They don’t even begin to take the actions that are necessary to achieve them. Or, they do try, a bit, and then give up trying. “I wanted to be_______ but it was SOOO hard.”

Of course, there are many other factors and variables to achieving our goals. Others might be more qualified for the job we want, and so they get hired instead of us. We might get ill while we are trying to achieve our goals. our dogs might actually eat the only copy of that novel manuscript you slaved over for five years. (winners back up their manuscripts on file). But these factors are outside our control, and we can do nothing to predict or control these factors. What we can control is our own behaviour. If we make every effort yet still fall short of our goals, it isn’t fair to call ourselves losers.

If you want something, whether it is to improve your English, complete a research paper, to choose your own career path, a degree, a job, a romantic partner, to travel, to emigrate to another country, write a book, record a hit song, invent a new technology, start your own business, or just to become the leader of a nation and change the world, you need to control your own behaviour. You need self-discipline. In other words, if you want something, anything, you need to make small rules and plans for yourself, and follow them. Telling yourself that something is either difficult or easy won’t help you. Plans and actions and sustained effort will. If you want to succeed in school, for instance, you need to study. If you study and prepare well, your quizzes and tests will not seem hard; they will seem easy. 

17th Century English scholar Thomas Fuller is credited as having once said, “all things are difficult before they are easy.” 

If you want something to be ‘easy’ then, do the work. Embrace what is difficult about something and make it easy.

Let’s think about this. If a politician told you, “Yeah, I want to end the war, but it’s so hard,” what would you think? Would you say, “Oh yes, it’s true, you’re right, it’s so hard to stop wars. Please relax and take a long vacation.” Of course not. You’d likely think, “You lazy jerk, do your job. We elected you to do the hard things so we could sit at the bar saying I could have pitched in the majors, but you know, it was tough!”

What if your soccer team was playing in the World Cup, and the coach was  speaking to the players and said, “are you guys ready to play the most important game of your life and become champions?” And one player raises his hand and shakes his head and says, “I don’t know coach, winning a championship is very difficult…”

What do you think the coach would do? He’d probably tell the player to pack his gear and get the hell out, and that the team doesn’t want losers; it wants winners.

Here’s the thing. Fuller’s quote is right about one thing in particular: everything is difficult. Life is difficult, and especially for adults. Once you move out of childhood, you will find yourself facing a life packed with ever-increasing complexity, confusion, choices, responsibility and stress. Being a child means basically that your parents do everything—what could be easier than that? Childhood is the easiest time of your life. Life gets increasingly challenging and difficult. Once you are independent adult, you find that everything you are asked to do or want to do or have to do is difficult. So by saying you can’t won’t or didn’t do something because it’s “difficult” is another way of saying, “I don’t want to be a free and independent adult with responsibilities, goals and dreams, I want to be a child who has none. I want to go back to rolling around on the floor crying “mommy, food!”

Because the world is full of difficult things, if you make a habit of avoiding anything that is hard, and instead develop the habit of always looking for something that is easy, you are going to miss an awful lot of things. You’ll never make real friends, never be healthy, hike a mountain, run more than 0.5 km, be a parent, write a song or novel, or make a movie, become a teacher, a lawyer, a company manager, a police officer, flight attendant, accountant, tax auditor, never make a podcast, rent or own an apartment or house, never take care of your parents when they are old and sick, never get over the loss of a loved one, or a serious illness or injury, never properly cook a steak or chicken, (and definitely never make a decent pizza), live in the country you want, never get a job because jobs are all difficult and that’s why you get money for doing them, and certainly never get the job you want, never sustain a relationship. Never complete a research paper. Never graduate from university. And never, ever learn another language. All these things are difficult, and all these things require a long, sustained effort. 

To succeed, to be a winner of anything, even simple goals, what you need to do is develop the skills needed to allow you to succeed despite difficulty, or better yet, because of it. Successful adults understand that everything is difficult or hard, so they don’t even think about it, and they don’t use these words. Do you think Steve Jobs sat around in a bar crying into a beer saying “man, developing a smartphone is difficult…”

Not likely. Instead, Jobs probably gathered his team and asked, “How can we make the best smartphone possible?”

Successful people understand there is no point to using these words. Successful people want to achieve their goals, and understand that it is committing to doing the work needed, taking the right actions, and sustaining the effort required that produce the results they desire.

By the way, by success here, we mean not necessarily financial success, although that can be nice. Here, we mean success as the achievement of any goal you have set for yourself. This can be lofty goals like curing cancer, or relatively modest goals like raising a happy and healthy family. Either one requires the discipline to sustain your effort, and knowing the actions you must take. Telling yourself doing any of these things is hard will never help you achieve them. Neither will hoping they get easy.

If you want to achieve your goals, stop telling yourself things are ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’. Every time you say this, you believe it a little more. And if you believe this, you will begin to live it. You will avoid making the effort or taking the action necessary for your goal, or you will make some effort and then give up. These words are highly dangerous. They program your mind to think like a loser. In other words, saying “it’s hard” is an excuse. It’s an excuse why you don’t try something or why you can’t do something, why you didn’t do something, or gave up trying, or why you won’t even try. Excuses are lies your fears tell you. Don’t listen to your fears.

Now, I’m not suggesting that these words have no value. Certainly, it is accurate to say, “students have difficulty developing English skills.” And it’s also true that “the degree of difficulty involved in sending a man to the moon in those days, with that technology, is almost incomprehensible.” All words have their time and place. What I am saying is we should be careful when and how we use them. And that we should avoid using them to make excuses for ourselves and others why we can’t do something. This does nothing but place artificial limits on what is possible for you. But your own real limits are much further out than you might think. You are capable of incredible achievements, but none of them will happen if you sit at the bar, or classroom desk, telling yourself, “it’s so difficult…”

All that does is express to others that you’d rather be a loser than a winner. So make your choice. Choose your goals, and your words thoughtfully. By all means sit at a bar–I’ve been known to do exactly that–but have a nice conversations with a friend, chat up that person you’re attracted to, ask the bartender about local sights and events, or watch a football game on the TV. But try to avoid using your bar time to tell the world you’ve given up trying to reach your dreams. If you express your optimism, your belief in your goals, you might even meet someone there who can help you achieve them. 

When you want something, anything, and you face the challenges involved in getting it, don’t waste your time, energy, and thought telling yourself or others that something is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult.” Doing so will convince you that you stand no chance of succeeding, and you will defeat yourself before you begin. Instead, figure out what you need to do; identify the specific steps or actions you must take, and then commit yourself to taking those actions. You want to graduate with a degree? Study, take notes, visit the professor during their office hours, review, read and write. Go out and meet people. You want to create a better smartphone than Steve Jobs? Start designing it. You want to find a good partner? Is it hard to do? Of course it is, but so what? Do it anyway or live the rest of your life alone at a bar swiping the Tinder screen telling yourself, ‘it sure is hard to meet someone.” You want to improve your English debating skills? Stop telling yourself it’s hard. Instead, go watch Youtube videos about how to debate better, watch videos of expert debaters in famous debates, and practice.

If you want it, stop telling yourself it’s hard, and GET AFTER IT.

So, stop using loser words like “difficult’ and ‘hard.’ Instead, ask yourself the only question that will guarantee you avoid being a loser and increase your ability to become a winner, even if the only thing you win is living the life you want to. When something you want involves challenges—and most things will—ask yourself: what am I going to do to make this challenging thing become easy?

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Teacher Paul
Teacher Paul

Paul Duke lives, instructs and tutors English, studies and writes in Canada and Japan.

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